British singer NAO has grown into a fully realized artist and person over her last five years in the public eye. Her debut album, 2016’s For All We Know, put her on the map as a cross-genre singer, while 2018’s Saturn was an introspective journey as she navigated her own Saturn return in her late twenties.
NAO’s long-awaited third album And Then Life Was Beautiful is out today, and is a celebration of who NAO has blossomed into in the three years since Saturn. (Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, that she poses on the album cover with a bright sunflower.)
And Then Life Was Beautiful is largely a product of the pandemic, as much of the album’s lyrical content deal with NAO’s life and realizations post-lockdown. “Change came like a hurricane / 2020 hit us differently,” the album’s title track opens. The “Superego” singer gave birth to her first child, a daughter, in June of 2020, and her transformation into a mother is reflected throughout the album.
Tracks like “Messy Love” and “Antidote” (a collaboration with Nigerian breakout singer Adekunle Gold) harken back to the upbeat outings NAO delivered on For All We Know; meanwhile, songs like “Wait” and the serpentwithfeet-assisted “Postcards” call to mind the heartfelt honesty of Saturn.
NAO spoke with The Independent ahead of the album’s release and was brutally honest about the process of bringing the album to life while simultaneously balancing the full-time job of being a new mother. She was holding her newborn daughter when she recorded “Woman,” an uplifting collab with fellow British Jamaican singer Lianne La Havas. “Getting back to music after giving birth was so healing,” she admitted. “I loved that I had something to focus on during the pandemic. It lit a fire in me.”
Despite being filled with love and satisfaction with her life and her music at the present moment, she’s decided not to go on tour next year in support of the album and instead focus on her health and her family. “As women, we’re definitely conditioned from a young age that we have to be ‘yes’ people. So this was a really big moment for me to say, ‘Actually, nah, I’m not gonna do that.’”